City College San Francisco The Guardsman

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Volume 136, Issue 8


Artist Trades Special Effects for Grassroots and Ceramic In An Effort to Help California's Missing Community College Students

by Michelle Moday

In a garage amongst stacks of Styrofoam and ceramic sculpture-lined shelves, artist Kin Kwok has smoothed and stretched brown waxy clay across the molded planes of two figures, one male and one female. With the help of four other artists he has created the prototypes for "The Missing Community College Students" Installation Project.


"It's going to be a powerful, beautiful installation," Kwok said.

Hundreds of individualized, fiberglass sculptures will be set up in Sacramento this spring to represent the thousands of students who have been denied access to community college classes due to the state's current budget plan. The goal of the project is to get these students heard by virtually getting them seen. It is a process of old methods meeting new ideas.

"I've been working everyday including weekends," Kwok said. Since mid November the artists have been working at a rapid pace, building two 60" tall human forms by hand, which will be molded and cloned in weatherproof fiberglass. Upon completion, each sculpture will weigh less than 35 lbs.

While taking a ceramics class at Laney Community College last semester Kwok met Leslie Smith, the Dean of Governmental Relations at City College, one of the people leading the budget advocacy efforts for community colleges. One day Smith came to class and shared her idea for "The Missing Student Project."

"I was sitting on that plane and it came to me like a comic book light bulb," Smith said. Kwok remembers the class liked the idea but thought that it might not happen because of the cost. "But it's happening!" he said.

After Smith received positive feedback from her classmates, she began searching for sponsors and more supporters. The ceramics teacher, Andrée Thompson offered the garage in her North Berkeley home for studio space and Kwok began working on computer designs of what the final installation might look like. He built two small clay models and gathered people he felt could help him expedite the process: his brother Edwin Kwok, Kristine Lyons, Brendah DeBow and Chandelle Soriano.

The artists must be able to work quickly, in fact Lyons described the process as "Chop, chop, chop," but Kwok pointed out that the proportion and personality of the sculptures are important for realism and balance: "At first there's a lot of measuring," he said, "but then it gets to the point where it becomes more spontaneous and about the feel."

Kwok's "missing students" express strength and humility. Weighty postures and minimalist facial features express the dejectedness of someone turned away from learning. "It's like someone protesting in silence. It has a power to it," Kwok said.

The figures are infused with personality but Kwok left them generic enough for students to embellish. The idea is that California community colleges will purchase one male and one female sculpture and the art students will personalize them with feathers, paint, fabric, or any way they chose. "This is a student-coordinated activity," Smith said.

Smith also said that she is very happy that Kwok was interested in taking on the project. She describes his work as "simple and beautiful" adding, "Not only does he have the technical expertise but the artistic vision."

Kwok used to be part of the special effects team nominated for an academy award for their work in "The Perfect Storm." Although special effects were his livelihood he said, "It's not my artwork." He prefers to make ceramics because it is tactile, personal and the results are instant.

"I love this project. It exactly what I do only much, much bigger," Kwok said smiling. The similarity between his smaller scale work and this installation is that the sculptures are more than objects in space. Kwok said he believes that "one of the purposes of making art is to bring it to the mind."

If the installation is successful, Smith and Kwok think the sculptures could be permanently installed throughout the state, on campuses, in museums, or put up for bid at an auction. Kwok hopes to do a smaller version of the sculptures in the future but right now he said, "It's just a thought."

GALLERY: The Shape of Protest to Come — Making the Missing Student

Kin Kwok (far left) created two maquettes (small clay models). They are 1:6 ratio of what the full-size sculptures would be. He photographed the maquettes from the front and sides, then printed the images to full size specifications. Artists from left: Kin Kwok, Edwin Kwok, Kristine Lyons
gallery3.jpg2. Kwok layered stacks of Styrofoam around a supporting core, where a square four-foot steel rod will anchor the sculptures at installation.Using the print out as sculpture patterns, two stacks of layered foam were cut into shape.
3. The foam begins to resemble the final form. Precise measurements written on the exterior reference proportion.  
4. The forms are sealed and subsequently covered with an oil-based clay. Kwok details the features, then sends the finished prototypes to Peterson Products, Inc., the manufacturer who will create the mold from which all of the fiberglass sculptures will be made.  

Sumiko California Shows "Sweetest Compassion"

)by Asiana Ponciano

Some say first impressions are everything. Upon meeting Sumiko California and her good friend Gunther Palmer, first impressions are everything but forgettable.

California, dressed in silver-studded black leather with her baby blue hair tied in a ponytail, seems radical and defiant. But surprisingly she is soft-spoken and determined.

Palmer has blond hair that flops to either side when not gelled into a Mohawk. His prominent jaw line becomes defined when he smiles.

Palmer is painfully shy. He also battles with schizophrenia. In spite of his shyness and this disabling disease, Palmer writes, sings, dances and plays musical instruments.

In 2002, California directed and produced a short documentary which is titled, "Sweetest Compassion: The Gunther Palmer Story."

"I wanted to show how Gunther got sick and he couldn't do the things he did before, but that he still had talent," said California.

The Set

Palmer, who was born in 1965, has already spent a fair amount of his life in front of a camera. As an infant, he appeared in Andy Warhol films because his mother, Ivy Nicholson, a former Vogue and Elle cover girl, was a part of the Factory, Warhol's artist collective. Gunther's father, John Palmer is the co-director and co-producer of "Ciao! Manhattan".

By the age of two, Palmer was living as a child model and actor in France. At age 18, he moved to San Francisco to live with his mother and twin sister.

The Scene

California's mother, Carolyn Saulson, met Nicholson at an artist co-op in San Francisco and soon after was introduced to her son.

According to Saulson, it was 1988 and Palmer was performing at a punk show just two days after being released from a hospital for one of the schizophrenic episodes he first began experiencing as a teenager.

The two families' lives quickly became entwined.

Palmer has been living with the Saulson's for 15 years now because Saulson has been dedicated to improving Palmer's life. With a degree in psychology, she had the knowledge and experience in dealing with mental disabilities. "I have a brother who is mentally retarded and my father was also schizophrenic," Saulson said.

In the opening scene of her film, California looks into the camera and states that Palmer is schizophrenic, and so is her grandfather. "Maybe that why we get along so well," she said with a playful giggle.

Filmed in digital video California combined interviews, animation, poetry and original music from Stage Fright, a band composed of Palmer, Saulson, California and her brother Scott. Not only does she focus on Palmer's struggle with his illness but also that he is part of society and enjoys life.

California believes that people who aren't "perfect" can still contribute to society. She makes reference to a number of artists with manic depression and schizophrenia and says she hopes her film will help dispel the stigma associated with having mental or physical disabilities.

In fall of 2003, Palmer's Intermediate Voice instructor at City College, Helen Dilworth, was given a copy of California's film. She said she is impressed with Palmer's talents and abilities "Gunther has learned to perceive himself not as a shy person but as a performer," Dilworth said.

"Sweetest Compassion" was funded by a grant called S.T.A.N.D. (Supporting, Training, and Access for New Directors), and Iconoclast Films, a grassroots company started by Saulson 10 years ago.

The film debuted in October of 2002 at the Film Arts Film Festival in San Francisco. This past November it was showcased at The San Francisco Underground Short Film Festival at the Bridge Theater. California has submitted the film to several other film festivals. Currently it can be seen and purchased on

A Glowing Sense of Imagery Times Three

by Lubna Takruri

A myriad of art worlds mingle side by side in "Illuminations," the current exhibit at the City Arts Gallery. The three-artist collaborative features abstract depictions of light and shadow, surreal influences and spiritual and archetypal symbols.

Photo by Rosalind Kwan

Nearly half of the 28 pieces are by artist Pauline Crowther Scott, a native of England who teaches at Mercy High School. Much of Scott's exhibited work is from her "Tricks of Light" series, influenced by a row of colored bottles on a windowsill. Scott's desire to capture the magic of "distorted shards of colored light" is evidenced in the still movement of colors in her art.

Scott's abstract color and light play punctuate the exhibit alongside Sharon Virtue's bold shapes and bright colors. Distinct forms of exotic places and archetypal symbols such as the eye, Buddha, flames, or a phoenix, characterize Virtue's work. It is spiritual, without being limited to any particular religion. Virtue describes her work, which consists of acrylic paint and oil pastels on paper, as "realistic but not realism." The familiarity of most figures in her art alludes to a collective consciousness that transcends cultures and spiritual ideologies.

Karen Wenger, who grew in New York City, paints spiritual themes and realistic scenes with oil on canvas.

The settings possess a dreamlike quality of a faraway place and are almost as real as looking through the glass. The viewer almost wants to shift angles to see whether a ray of light falling on a wall is part of the painting or real. A bird perched on a rock casts an eerily factual reflection, and scenes of emptiness and loneliness carry deep emotion in Wagner's art. Her newest piece, "See No Evil" depicts ethereal figures in a surreal setting. The artist says she made it with the intention of promoting religious diversity and tolerance.

These three discernibly different styles create one exhibit that illuminates different artistic cultures, different worlds.

City College painting teacher Agathe Bennich said, "The variety of work is always interesting, from the surrealism, to floating light, to spiritual work, which has strong tradition ­ we don't see that often."

"Illuminations," can be seen at the City Arts Gallery, room 117 of the Visual Arts Building, Ocean Campus, until Dec. 10. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.